Hotshot rookie Jack Studnicka looks like he belongs after Bruins audition

Hotshot rookie Jack Studnicka looks like he belongs after Bruins audition

Unfortunately for the Bruins, they had just one exhibition game this week to figure things out with round-robin and playoff games already starting for them this weekend.

The good news for the Black and Gold? They already may have figured out that 21-year-old rookie forward Jack Studnicka is an option as he looks like he belongs amidst the Bruins search for a top-6 secondary scoring answer.

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Studnicka didn’t crack the score sheet in Boston’s limp 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night at the Toronto bubble at Scotiabank Arena, but he looked quite at home skating on the right wing with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. That was a welcome development after a promising Phase 3 training camp where he looked ready for prime time while getting top-6 reps with both David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase missing in action.

Understandably, the B’s top prospect looked a little hesitant right out of the starting gate, but he ended with some of the best scoring chances in a game with few Boston highlights.

There were some details still to be ironed out and eventually the Bruins are going to want offensive finish from a guy who led the P-Bruins in goal-scoring this past season, but they certainly seem to believe they have something cooking with Studnicka.

“He certainly had some of our better chances. He didn’t finish, but I thought he played well,” said Cassidy about Studnicka. “He was willing to go to the net and go to the dirty areas. Shooting versus passing, that’s just something he’s going to have to learn at this level. Those are both things he does well. The more he plays in this league, the more he’ll be able to figure that out. He does have a good shot and release, so we’re going to encourage it. We want him to play his game.

“I thought he made a couple of soft plays on his backhand and guys in the NHL with their sticks are just too good. Those are tough to make. But for the most part he did his job and got some opportunities to score.”

At least a couple of times throughout the evening, Studnicka got in close for quality scoring chances after Krejci set him up with slick passes, and he finished with three shots on net in 13:40 of ice time. It was clear the playmaking veteran center and the 21-year-old rookie already have pretty good two-man chemistry going, and Studnicka also managed to do a solid job winning board battles and making the little plays to complement Krejci and the speedy DeBrusk.

Studnicka admitted following the game that his comfort level at the NHL has grown exponentially from almost a year ago at Boston’s training camp, and that heightened comfort level was readily apparent on the ice.

“I definitely felt stronger on the puck and more comfortable. It just felt like another hockey game to me out there,” said Studnicka. “In the past my nerves might have kicked in and stuff like that. I definitely felt good. I think I’ve done a good job to prepare for this moment, so my body felt good out there.

“I thought our first two shifts were some of the better ones of the game. It got us into the game, we were cycling the puck and had a lot of O-zone [time]. We read off each other really well, and you just need to be ready to [receive] the puck and get to the net when you’re playing with [Krejci]. For our first game together, I’m definitely happy.”

Certainly, there will be more future competition for the second line right wing gig once Kase has rejoined the team and is ready to play at some point in the postseason. Bruce Cassidy has already confirmed, though, that Kase won’t just automatically get his job back if one of the younger players flourishes in the meantime. Right on cue, Studnicka took a big first step in last night’s exhibition appearance toward claiming a top-6 role by doing just about everything right.

Now he’ll get more chances during round-robin play against bigger, better competition around the Eastern Conference.  

Next comes the challenging part for rookies like Studnicka, though. He’ll need to maintain that level of play in a totally unique Stanley Cup Playoff experience while the stakes and intensity just keep elevating for the youngster along with the rest of the Bruins.  

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy responds to Tuukka Rask's 'exhibition' remark

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy responds to Tuukka Rask's 'exhibition' remark

Tuukka Rask's comments after the Boston Bruins' Game 2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night rubbed some the wrong way, but head coach Bruce Cassidy wasn't fazed.

Rask raised eyebrows when he said, “To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey out there. There are no fans, so it’s kind of like playing an exhibition game." That isn't exactly what B's fans want to hear from their goaltender after a playoff loss, but Cassidy downplayed Rask's remarks Friday during a video conference with reporters.

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“I didn’t speak to him after his comments. Tuukka, I think the Boston media knows him well enough — he answers his questions the way he feels,” Cassidy said. “It is a unique environment, but to me, there’s playoff intensity on the ice. You’ve just gotta control what you can control when you’re a player. In my situation, as a coach, the way I look at it, at the end of the day, they’re gonna hand out the Stanley Cup this year. So we’ve gotta play our best hockey if we want to be that team.

"That was our goal at the start of the year. We didn’t anticipate it would end up in an environment like this, but here it is, right? You play the hand you’re dealt, and you prepare yourself — and in my case prepare the team — in this case, for Game 3, to play our best hockey game and that’s what my focus is on right now, plain and simple. That’s what we’re gonna do tonight and puck drop tomorrow at noon, we’re gonna put our best foot forward.”

While Rask's comments may have been off-putting, they weren't unfounded. The NHL's bubble environment is unlike anything these players have experienced before. Matching the level of playoff intensity that's in the arena when fans are in attendance is virtually impossible.

Regardless, Rask and the B's will have to be on their game if they're to regain the series lead on Saturday. Puck drop for Game 3 vs. the Hurricanes is set for 12 p.m. ET. on NBC.

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins will be making changes for Game 3; Is it Jack Studnicka time?

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins will be making changes for Game 3; Is it Jack Studnicka time?

The Bruins are expecting to make some lineup adjustments headed into Game 3 after the Hurricanes evened the series 1-1 apiece in Thursday night’s 3-2 loss in the Toronto bubble at Scotiabank Arena.

Bruce Cassidy said the B’s have some banged-up players that will also have to be factored in as well, but it sounded like he was looking to go a little smaller and faster with his group to counteract some of the speed and aggressive pressure that the Hurricanes are throwing at them.

“We’ve thought it through. There are always day-to-day bumps and bruises, but we’ll be making changes both at forward and at [defense]. Some of that is getting some energy in the lineup and changing the look of our forward group,” said Bruce Cassidy of his Game 3 lineup vs. the Hurricanes.

“Overall [Anders Bjork] did what he could with his skill set to help that line. Nobody is going to replace Pastrnak, but if guys can go in there and complement Bergeron and Marchand and help them create some offense, then they’ve done a good thing. [Bjork] may not go back there, but I don’t think that’s why we feel a goal short [in Game 2].”

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Cassidy said he “anticipates” that Rask will start Game 3 on Saturday at noontime and that David Pastrnak “could possibly play” as a game-time decision after he didn’t practice on Friday with small optional group.

Ideally, the B’s would like to have Pastrnak be able to test out the injury in practice ahead of trying to give it a go in a game, but they won’t get that chance with a noontime start on Saturday after the 24-year-old Pasta didn’t skate on Friday.

“There were some good goals and good saves, but in those one-goal games each goalie needs to make one more save along the way [if they hope to win],” said Cassidy of Rask, who has a “meh” .899 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average in two games vs. Carolina.

“We didn’t get it and they did, and the opposite was true the game before. I think [Rask’s] game can grow like all of our games. The goalie position is probably a tougher one to get up to speed with not a lot of room for error.

“All of the goalies coming back are all in that same position. Hopefully he’ll be better [in Game 3] and we’ll be better in front of him.”

The bet here as far as the lineup changes go? One would expect that Nick Ritchie would be coming out after he was a non-factor in Game 2 with just 10:45 of ice time, and Jeremy Lauzon as well after playing just 13:16 of ice time and taking an early undisciplined penalty chasing after Carolina players after a clean hit laid on Karson Kuhlman.

If Pastrnak can’t play Game 3 and the speedy, responsible Kuhlman stays in the lineup that could open up a chance for rookie Jack Studnicka to play right wing on either the first or third line with Anders Bjork swinging over to his natural left wing side.

Studnicka is the only player the Bruins have among their current reserves that could really make a significant offensive impact with the kind of upside where the 21-year-old could be a difference-maker in a possible one-goal game. So it would make sense that the kid gets the call if the Bruins are looking for energy and a little offense with Pastrnak’s skill set potentially missing from the Game 3 lineup. 

Studnicka played in the first game of the round robin and didn't do much beyond some nice hustle plays on the back-check, but it's pretty clear he has top-6 skill and goal-scoring abilities. 

On defense, it might be time for Cliffy Hockey and Connor Clifton after he played a gritty, agitating game in the round-robin finale against the Washington Capitals. Clifton could play a role similar to the one that Haydn Fleury has played very well for the Hurricanes as a D-man that’s been unafraid to stir things up physically against the Bruins.